Friday, October 29, 2010

Rain, clouds and Ash(field)

Last weekend’s Ashfield’s Big Yum Cha, as part of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival, had the unfortunate luck of an almost non-stop rainy day. But there was still cover under shopfront awnings where tabletop stalls were set up similar to Haberfield’s Primavera for the still festive, albeit smaller than expected, crowds.

Stalls set up along Liverpool Raod for Ashfield's Big Yum Cha
We got straight into the eating, and the chilli for that matter, at the first (last?) stall on Liverpool Road, set up rather inconveniently right in front of the restaurant’s own entrance. Here we huddled under the shelter and lapped up what Sky Mountain Hand Made Noodle Restaurant had to offer.

Cold noodles with spicy pork from Sky Mountain Hand Made
Noodle Restaurant, Liverpool Road, Ashfield
Cold noodles on a cold day aren’t the best pairing but add a tasty pork mince mixture, a ladle of a sweet, goopy red chilli sauce and chilli soy sauce and you’ll be warmed soon enough. At first, the slippery, cold noodles were refreshing and sweet in the thick chilli sauce, with subtle flavours of seafood incorporated within, while the pork mixture was beautifully and highly seasoned with spice and more sweetness.

After a couple of mouthfuls, the chilli soy started its burning path across the tongue and down the back of the throat, with the cucumber slivers the only relief among the sauce drenched noodles. It was quite the heart and palate starter, warming and rendering us thirsty for water and more.

Deep fried chicken with dry fried chilli from Sky Mountain
Hand Made Noodle Restaurant
Spotting the dark hued deep fried chicken from afar, the tumble of red chillies was surprisingly not a turn-off. In fact, the large dry fried chillies were part of the appealing aesthetic although I can’t say whether or not they were as spicy as the noodle sauces.

The small pieces of chicken were mostly awkward wing bits, making for some nimble nibbling and finger licking. There was definitely lots of the latter as the darkened (reddish even), crisp outer had a fantastic flavour: salty, mildly spiced and ever so moreish, it’s no wonder the dish is a restaurant specialty. If only it used some slightly meatier bits of chicken – more flesh, less cartilage and bones, please.

More stalls, more dumplings
We made the undercover stroll down Liverpool Road, tasting noodles and Turkish bread with dips, all the while noticing the heavily northern Chinese slant to the cuisine. There’s an abundance of steamed and pan fried dumplings at most the shop stalls, along with noodles and shallot pancakes – making for a slightly different ‘yum cha’ experience to normal.

A seafood shop on Liverpool Road - check out the inky cuttlefish
We decided to get a more substantial feed indoors rather than face the elements for the entire day, and headed past the cumin spiced lamb skewers and dumplings of the Shanghai Night stall and into the crammed restaurant itself, ready for some dumpling feasting.

Beef and scallion steamed dumplings (small) from
Shanghai Night, Liverpool Road, Ashfield
Our initial order of the chicken and shitake mushroom steamed dumplings was out, so changed to the beef and scallion variety, of which 12 dumplings comprise a ‘Small’ serve. Through the smooth pastry, the main flavour was that of scallions, or spring onions, with the minced meat filling much less beefy than I expected.

While the dumplings were nice with a blend of soy sauce and the black vinegar sauce, they were even better with Shanghai Night’s chilli sauce; a thick red paste packed with chilli seeds and skin, subtle in heat and packing a great, enhancing punch of flavour.

[Rant warning]  We’d actually expected our soup to turn up first before any dumplings, so more than 10 minutes after finishing our first dumplings, the warnings bells started to ring. When more minutes elapse and other later-arriving, larger tables got their full orders before we got anything further, we enquired about the whereabouts of the rest of our order and receive no follow-up whatsoever.

The nearby table of six that came after us managed to get in and out before our table of two got our second dish (and I’m not saying that they were quick eaters). I don’t expect friendly service as I understand that they’re working in tough conditions with the packed shop and preparations for the stall outside. But the inefficiency here was nearly beyond belief; leaving me wishing that I’d gone to the cleaner, slightly more spacious New Shanghai next door.

Spicy and sour tofu soup
The soup arrived next without comment. A happy melange of submerged ingredients, it was rich in colour and flavour. While the sour aspect was immediately detectable, the hot didn’t hit me until it reached the back of my throat.

Wheezing a little, I really enjoyed the silky cubes of tofu, textures contrasting with the softened bamboo shoots and black fungus (or seaweed), and the firm strips of pork. With egg white mixed into the thick soup, it was really quite a pretty soup.

Sheng jian bao - pan fried pork buns
Our order of pan fried pork buns eventually emerge, greasy and piled up. Biting into the bun cautiously, I was shocked to find the bun of medium heat and without any soupy inners. The next and next buns prove that the first wasn’t a one-off: none of the buns had soup in them, making the extended wait for them completely un-worthwhile.

Not enough to save the letdown of the absent soup, but the dough was nice and fluffy with golden brown bottoms and the pork filling was acceptably tasty, making for safer and neater eating without the soup, but just not as good.

Xiao long bao - Steamed pork dumplings
I had higher hopes for the xiao long bao, which were again unexpectedly dashed. At least four of the dumplings were deflated and completely bereft of soup before even a pair of our chopsticks went near them. Some were also adorned with a pink-brown foam oozing from the dumplings which was probably discharged from the pork filling during cooking – presumably normal but nonetheless, really not appetising.

The dumpling skins were probably double the thickness of the delicate ones of Din Tai Fung’s – the thicker ones great for holding in the soup in if there was any. The pork filling was again nice, but unspectacular without the soup. The ones that had soup were better, although I felt that the flavours were still diluted by the thick pastry skins.

More food stalls on Liverpool Road, Ashfield
Probably over an hour later, we emerge from the stuffy interior of Shanghai Night into the now rather welcome rain outside although some stalls were starting to pack up, especially all those on Hercules Street which we missed visiting.

We pick up a few final takeaway boxes of cold noodles and cold sliced beef for dinner, in addition to our leftover soup-less pan fried pork buns, and a quick visit to BreadTop and made the dash in the rain back to where we started. Rain, clouds, wet feet, bad service, great noodles – it was a day in Ashfield that had it all.

Shanghai Night on Urbanspoon


chocolatesuze said...

ah shame about the crappy service and soupless buns! but mmm i want a bag of prawn crackers

Tina said...

Hey suze - What's more sad than soupless buns...?

Mel said...

Oooo - how sad about the bad service and sad soupless buns! The buns look so good from your photos. The chicken you had before you got into the restaurant looks really nice though - I really like crunchy, boney chicken wings...mmmm.

Corinne @ Gourmantic said...

I would have liked to go but settled for a lazy Sunday with all that rain. Shame about the service. You'd think they'd get it right for such an event.

Tina said...

Hi Corinne - Yeah, I'm surprised I even went in that rain...!

MarkSindone said...

Ah what a pity about the rain! But weather in Sydney is like that isn't it. It wouldn't be Sydney if you didn't get a little bit of interesting and sometimes disappointingly unpredictable weather! Looks like you managed to eat your fill though, so no harm no foul hey!


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